The fastest of his generation
Alexander Popov dominated the men’s sprint freestyle discipline at the Barcelona Games, winning gold medals in the 50m and 100m freestyle events and silver medals in the 4x100m freestyle relay as well as the 4x100m men’s medley.
Competing for the ‘Unified Team,’ the name given to teams formerly under the Soviet Union banner, Popov won heat eight of the 50m freestyle event to qualify for the final. He won gold in a time of 21.91 seconds beating the two Americans Matthew Biondi and Thomas Jager into silver and bronze respectively.
Popov won heat ten of the 100m freestyle and went on to claim the gold medal in the final this time beating Gustavo Borges of Brazil into silver and Stéphane Caron of France into bronze. Popov’s time for the 100m was 49.02. The Russian won a total of four Olympic medals in Barcelona. Two relay silvers also came in the 4x100m freestyle and 4x100m medley events.
Four years later at the Atlanta Games in 1996 the Russian claimed exactly the same Olympic medals as he did in Barcelona. Popov retained his 50m and 100m Olympic titles, becoming the first man to do so since the American Johnny Weissmuller back at Amsterdam 1928. As in Barcelona, he also won the same two sprint Relay Silver Medals.
Never say never again
Popov, who held the world record for the long course 50m freestyle of 21.64 seconds for almost 10-years, competed in a total of four Olympiads. He won silver in the 100m freestyle at Sydney in 2000 and at the age of 39 even managed to qualify for the semi-final stage of the same event in Athens four years later.
Popov was given the title of ‘Russian Athlete of the Year 1996’ and was awarded the Russian Medal of Honour for his immense contribution to sport. In December 1999 Alexander Popov was elected a full member of the International Olympic Committee.